Growing And Using Bay Leaves

Bay bushes make a great addition to any garden. Guide to growing and using bay leaves in cooking.

If you have ever taken a tour through a large garden, you have probably walked right by a popular bush called the bay bush and not even realized it. The proper name for the bush or small tree is laurus nobilis. It has thick, green leaves that are shiny. If cared for properly, it will flower in the spring.

Bay bushes can be difficult to grow from seeds. They need perfect conditions; temperatures maintained around sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit and a fairly dry soil. You will achieve much more success if you start your bush from a cutting or buy an already established bush at your local nursery. If you plan to start with cuttings, it's best to take the cuttings during the first weeks of summer. Bay bushes should be planted in full sun and in a place that does not get hit with heavy winds. The bay bush is pretty hardy once it's established so you will not need to bring it inside over the winter. You should, however, cover the bush with straw and mulch it well if there is a danger of winter weather. If your plants get too cold, the leaves will brown and fall off. At this point many people give up on their bay bush and discard it. If left alone, the leaves will return in the spring.

In the kitchen, bay leaves can be used in soups, stews, and pasta dishes and is a great flavoring for beef and chicken dishes. It is one of the most important ingredients in a bouquet garni. A bouquet garni consists of several herbs and spices that are tied in cheesecloth and dropped in a soup or stew and simmered along. At the end of the cooking cycle, the garni can be removed and the flavors that are left behind in the stew are wonderful.



A common bouquet garni consists of:

Bay leaves

Parsley

Thyme

Celery

Onions

Wrap the contents tightly in the cheesecloth and tie a string to the newly formed bag. This string will enable you to remove the bag when the food is done. Be sure you don't use a colored string as the color will bleed into your stew. Bay leaves can also be dropped into spaghetti sauce and will add a wonderful flavor. Bay leaves are tough and should not be ingested so be sure to remove them before you serve the meal.

Another great recipe that entails the use of bay leaves is a simple beef stew that can be thrown in the slow cooker before you leave for work:

2 lbs. of stew meat or a 2-LB roast

1 cup carrots

2 cups potatoes

1 large onion

3 bay leaves

2 tablespoons of peppercorns

1 cup water

1 cup frozen corn

Layer the ingredients in the slow cooker as listed except for the corn. Throw the corn in during the last 30 minutes of cooking and retrieve the bay leaves. Serve with crusty French bread and a salad. Bay leaves are not only used in cooking; they are also used by herbalists around the world to relieve people of aches and pains, as an astringent and to repel insects.

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